Beyond Boundary Objects – Improving Engineering Communication with Conscription Devices

Venlakaisa Hölttä

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


    In addition to increased technical complexity, globalization and increasing global competition have made engineering communication a complex and boundary crossing activity with multiple stakeholders. This dissertation studies how product information is used in engineering communication between experts in different problem-handling situations during the product lifecycle. Engineering communication is mediated via different product information artifacts. The concepts "boundary object" and "conscription device" are used as theoretical lenses to study these artifacts. Boundary objects are artifacts that carry information between development domains and stakeholders. Conscription devices augment boundary objects by enlisting people who will bring the necessary context information into a problem- handling situation. This dissertation addresses the role of context information in engineering communication and studies how context information can be included in engineering communication. The empirical part of the research consists of three case studies, which were conducted in traditional manufacturing industries to study engineering communication during different phases of the product lifecycle: Design, manufacturing, and maintenance. Data were collected using interviews, observations, a future dialogue workshop, and a simulation game. The results have been analyzed in a qualitative manner with content analysis. The results show that a lack of context information in engineering communication poses challenges. For example, a designer produces low-quality designs due to a lack of manufacturing context information and a technical support engineer needs to send several clarifying e-mails to understand what the context for the faulty equipment. These issues result in wasted time and rework. The results also indicate that conscription devices may be used in engineering communication to introduce critical context information, which would help diminish the challenges stemming from a lack of context information. The results can be used for designing collaborative computer tools that take into account communicating context information along with the actual content. Additionally, the results will help in planning a more deliberate way to use product information as conscription devices and boundary objects, in different problem-handling situations.
    Translated title of the contributionRajaobjekteista seuraava askel - Insinöörien välisen kommunikoinnin kehittäminen osallistamisobjektien avulla
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor's degree
    Awarding Institution
    • Aalto University
    • Nieminen, Marko, Supervising Professor
    • Nieminen, Marko, Thesis Advisor
    Print ISBNs978-952-60-5448-3
    Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-5449-0
    Publication statusPublished - 2013
    MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


    • engineering communication
    • boundary objects
    • conscription devices
    • context information
    • problem handling
    • computer supported collaborative work (CSCW)


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